Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Hair (Spoiler!)

I finally saw Chris Rock's documentary "Good Hair" this weekend. Reviews have been mixed but mostly positive. A great article about it can be found here. My opinion of it is, like everything else that has to do with this subject, complicated.

The frame of the movie is the Bonner Bros. hair show in Atlanta, at which hundreds of hair product manufacturers and vendors set up sprawling display tables in the giant auditorium, beauticians and hair enthusiasts from around the world flock to the site, and several extra-talented stylists compete in stage shows involving dancing, scantily-clad women, gymnastics, and a bit of haircutting. At the show Rock interviews vendors and highlights the issue of how Asian Americans currently own most of the hair supply retail stores in the U.S. He discovers weaves, and is amazed to find out how much money women spend to weave foreign hair into their own, to get that "long, flowing look." He travels to India to follow the supply chain, finding that the hair is taken from temples where people sacrifice their hair to God, then it is cleaned, sewn, and shipped to the U.S.

The irony he highlights is that African Americans are giving money to Asians to get Indian hair in order to put it on their heads to achieve a certain look (a "white look," many would say, though he didn't really go there).

Mostly he interviews his Hollywood friends Eve, Raven Symone, Nia Long, and Tracie Thoms. These are women who admit to spending thousands of dollars on weaves.

Not a realistic depiction.

He interviews AA men about the subject, how these men know they are in a serious relationship when they start financing a woman's hair (this notion was mildly offensive, in my opinion), how they know not to run their fingers through a woman's hair if she has a weave. How they have to accept the presence of hair in their relationship, and even sex has to be modified to allow room for it. I found these opinions on the matter shallow and rude.

He interviews a few (very few) women in regular, everyday beauty shops and asks about relaxers. Some women say using a relaxer makes their hair more "natural." Hmmm. Rock is amazed at the young age at which many African American girls are getting relaxers. One small child had her first relaxer at age 3. Talk about getting started on the creamy crack early!
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Here was the one part that started to highlight the negative side of this hair pathology. The other part was a brief interview with some college students who say that in order to get a job they definitely wouldn't go for the natural, mini-Afro look that one of the girls had. It just wouldn't be "professional."

Critics are saying they're surprised by Rock's solid reportage. I would agree that he did a full-on immersion, traveling to India to find out where all the weave hair comes from, chronicling the hair show, etc. But there were big issues he only barely touched upon. He failed to mention how many other women (white included) wear weaves and are also obsessed with their hair. Why do women feel the need to look a certain way? Could men themselves be perpetuating this? And what about the growing natural hair movement? By not mentioning that, I felt in some ways he was taking a step back while so many of us are trying to move forward.

Perhaps part of this is because his angle was humorous, and I suspect he also didn't want to offend anyone. You can only go so deep while keeping a laugh track, which is actually something I've found myself when writing about my experiences with this subject. The obsession with hair is so extreme that the ridiculousness is just plain funny (think: tumbleweaves), but there can be very painful things at the root of that obsession that aren't so funny.

Rocks ends the documentary with the necessary conclusion of all these circular hair discussions: ALL hair is good hair. Let us do away with the parsing of positive and negative terms.

Black hair (and why black women spend ten times as much on their hair as white women) is an important conversation. It's not a new one for black folks. For whites, I suspect, it might be, and in that sense perhaps this documentary's mainstream presence will indeed do a service to the community. Though, because the movie shies away from many of the deeper issues, I worry that people who are new to this subject will leave the theater shaking their heads and thinking that black women are just simply crazy about hair. They might just chuckle and forget to ask what's under the weave. They might not be spurred to recognize the media's preference for a certain look, or question dominant standards of beauty.

But maybe, hopefully, not.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Have You Heard? Mainstream Media Cares About Black Hair.

Apparently mainstream media has become interested in the age-old Black hair debates. Newsweek recently attacked Angelina Jolie's daughter Zahara, basically saying that it's obvious Angelina has no idea how to care for ethnic hair and nor does she care. And in no simple terms said that little Zahara looks "unkempt." Fury arise! Oh boy. The blogosphere is blowing up in response.

The thing is, folks, it's all in the way you talk about this issue. Because black hair can be all tied up in racial issues, female identity, etc., you have to speak with compassion and with a full understanding of all the issues. You also must take care not to make assumptions about what issues or motivations individuals have, because you're probably wrong.

A blog post about the Newsweek article that does just that can be found on What About Our Daughters. Check out the 130+ comments too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Michelle Obama's Roots

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Everyone who pays attention to the news has heard about last week's headline regarding First Lady Michelle Obama's roots. (Detailed coverage by the NYTimes can be found here.) I've been thinking about this issue for a while, trying to figure out why it's so touching. Of course, as the writers and commenters say, it is a truly American story, emblematic not only of our country's sad history of slavery and miscegenation but also of triumph. Look how far we've come, from a (probable) non-consensual union between a white slaveowner and his slave, which represents the many cruelties of slavery that ended not yet 200 years ago, to the most esteemed position in the country: the White House.

But I also saw within this story other important themes close to my heart. The not-knowing of roots (a relative of Michelle's great-great-great grandmother Melvina, the slave who bore four mulatto babies wrote "don't know" in the blanks for the names of her parents on her death certificate, suggesting Melvina likely didn't know her own heritage). Melvina shared her last name, Shields, with her owners. What may have been her African name? No one can be certain who on the plantation impregnated her, so her son Dolphus, Michelle's great-great grandfather, probably didn't know who his father was. What do these mysteries and pains of heritage remind me of?

An adoption story, in which roots are a mystery, shielded from the adoptee as s/he takes a new name and family when adopted. Adoption's getting better--transparency is more often a goal than it was before--but the history is there.

I hope people will see, with this story as an example, how important it is for people (incl. adopted people) to know their roots.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License

It's 2009. Some people say we live in a post-racial society. I wonder if those optimists have read the recent story about the Louisiana judge who refused to marry an interracial couple. His reasons were that he's found those mixed marriages "don't last long" and he thinks the "children will suffer."

The story speaks for itself, so I don't have much to add except that there's no doubt in my mind those children will indeed suffer if people like this judge stay in power. Wow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mixed Chicks Chat Live Radio Podcast

Tomorrow I'll be a guest on the award-winning Mixed Chicks Chat radio show at 5 PM EST. It's hosted by Heidi Durrow and Fanshen Cox, two multitalented artists doing important work in maintaining a dialogue about the mixed-race experience in America. They are also the ones that bring us the Mixed Roots Literary and Film Fest held in Los Angeles every summer.

Tune in via Talkshoe here:

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Excellent Hair Documentary

Check out this hair documentary on youtube about the Black hair industry--who controls it (not Black people!), what goes on behind the scenes with manufacturers, distributors, etc. It illustrates how Blacks can unite in this issue. Very informative and well done. Note: there are six parts. Thanks, Aron, for your research!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Un-Fun Facts

For every two deaths in Iraq, there is one death in Pittsburgh.

Three-quarters of those dying locally are African American.

We cannot be blind to the wars going on in our own backyards.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Good Hair Documentary

Did anyone make it to see Chris Rock's "Good Hair" documentary? It was released last night in "certain cities" (which I take to mean New York, Chicago, Montreal, and Los Angeles--not Pittsburgh). If you did, tell me all about it! I can't wait to see it when it's released everywhere Oct. 23.

Get this. Apparently a woman named Regina Kimball is suing Chris Rock for copying elements of her 2006 film "My Nappy Roots." Her film, which traces the history of black hair care, has only been shown in educational settings and at festivals. I'd like to more about this, because in some ways it's confusing. Rock's film is based on his daughter's experiences, at least initially, right? And did he go to all the same salons and hair shows, etc. as Kimball did? Perhaps the projects are similar, but when it's an individual journey it gets tricky, I think. How can someone copy someone else's memoir? How much style mimicking is okay, and when does it cross the line into plagiarism? I guess I can't speak definitively in this case since I haven't watched either film, but if anyone has feel free to chime in.

Either way, I think the film is worth checking out, as it adds to the conversation about hair that never ends...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month is November. National Adoption Day is November 21. Consider planning an event to raise awareness of the 129,000 children in foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families. An unprecedented number of courts and communities across the nation will come together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children from foster care and to celebrate all families who adopt. Check out ideas and info from the Dave Thomas Foundation:

A National Initiative Takes Hold
National Adoption Day started small in the year 2000, with events in nine cities. Over the years, it grew rapidly, until by 2006, more than 300 events were held in all 50 states the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. A total of 26,000 children have been adopted from U.S. foster care at National Adoption Day celebrations, and millions of Americans have been touched through local and national media coverage.
The success of National Adoption Day is a result of the hard work of local event planners, the generosity of national and local supporters, the promotion of collaborating organizations, the participation of government representatives and the attention of the media. Congratulations to each of you for making a difference in the lives of children.

142 Events in 42 States Already Registered
National Adoption Day planners across the U.S. are on the ball: 142 have already shared details of their event to post on the web site; 132 have joined the online event organizer community to share ideas and enthusiasm; and 5 have already securedproclamations from their governor or mayor.
If you are planning a National Adoption Day event and haven't registered yet, or if you would like host an event in your community, visit today. You will be listed with others across the U.S. on the map page and eligible to order a free plush bunny for every child being adopted at your event, generously provided by Nestle. The web site also features toolkits, media materials, collaborating organizations and information on adoption. Registered events can also order teddy bears at a discount from Fiesta Toys.

Order Discounted National Adoption Day Items Online
New this year, you can purchase National Adoption Day logo items at a discount. Visit for banners, mugs, pens, bags, shirts, stickers, signage and more. Some items carry the National Adoption Daypublic service announcement "One Day" messages: 4,500 children will be adopted on ONE DAY; more than 120,000 children in U.S. foster care are still waiting for ONE DAY; and ONE DAY, every child will have a family.

Become a Supporting Organization
Generate awareness of National Adoption Day and let us recognize you on our web site:
  • Encourage your members to participate
  • Distribute flyers at your events
  • Include an article in your newsletter or e-news
  • Post a link on your web site
To get everything you need, contact
Follow Us On Twitter
Use the power of the internet to help National Adoption Day grow. Get live updates and pass them on at

National Adoption Day is led by a Coalition of six organizations, working together to draw national attention and support local events: The Alliance for Children's Rights, Casey Family Services,Children's Action Network, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Freddie Mac Foundation.

Literary Magazine Hot Metal Bridge Call for Submissions

Hot Metal Bridge

It’s that time of year again writers, readers and friends. We here at Hot Metal Bridge are ready and willing to pore over your finest literary submissions in preparations for the sixth iteration of Hot Metal Bridge, due to be released later this fall. Below you’ll find the updated call for submissions from the various genres. So whether it be fiction or criticism, nonfiction or poetry, send us your work by Tuesday, November 10th. We look forward to it.

Submissions Guidelines:


Hot Metal Bridge is interested in your well-crafted literary fiction, whether short story, flash fiction, or novel excerpt. What counts as literary? Just don’t send us a story about spaceship-flying dinosaurs. That said, we like aesthetic diversity, from realism to surrealism, maximalism to minimalism. We accept submissions as Word attachments sent to Please keep submissions under 7,000 words and make sure to include your name and contact information.


We are many, and our tastes differ, but as this is an entirely online journal, there’s no reason not to read the past issue before submitting (it’s good, we promise). If you can smell what we’re stepping in, then send something our way. Down to business. We welcome poetry submissions of five (5) pages or five (5) poems, whichever comes first. Please attach your submission as one document (we prefer .doc, but .docx .rtf or .pdf will all work) with your name appearing at the top of the first page. E-mail subject heading should read “Spring Poetry Submission” and in the body, you may include a short bio or cover letter, if that strikes your fancy. Send your work our


For this issue (and this issue only) all creative nonfiction submissions must be brief: 1,000 words or less. If you think of creative nonfiction as organic material saturated with potential energy—ready fuel for reflection, insight, and action—then brevity is a diamond. Alternately, think of creative nonfiction as a magnifying glass held over some aspect of human experience; brevity focuses that lens until your writing ignites.

As in past issues, we’re still looking for nonfiction in all its guises: essay, travel writing, literary journalism, satire, memoir, etc. We want to hear about dirty kitchens, ill-mannered exchange students, and hydrogen bonding. We will read about decaying vineyards, heroic mall guards, disenchanted cartographers, and sweet potatoes. If it’s new and true—and under 1,000 words—send it our way as a Word or RTF attachment.


Hot Metal Bridge is looking for innovative critical work from graduate students and scholars across the humanities. As a forum for a variety of approaches to cultural criticism, we want your seminar and conference papers, your unpublished chapters, your articles and miscellany. Our aim is to create a space for previously unpublished pieces that may not find an easy home elsewhere. Because critical work is inherently creative, we encourage interdisciplinarity and hybridity in both form and content.

For the first time, our Fall 2009 issue will feature articles constellated around a specific theme. The increasingly digital manner in which we engage with the world—what Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker call “network being, a Dasein specific to network phenomena”—gestures toward the impending declaration of the “death of analog.” We are interested in exploring some of the implications of near-ubiquitous digitization, especially the implications this has for work in the humanities, a field that has been dominated by the analogical since the invention of the pen. So for this issue, we specifically invite submissions loosely gathered around themes of the digital (for instance, but not limited to):

–Literature read through a digital lens

–The materiality of the text and textual apparatus of the book

–Digitality and poststructuralism: fragmentation in practice

–Modes of composition: digital pedagogy, multimodal making

–(New) Forms? New Form(alism)?

–Digital effects on the production of literature

–Networks and network theory

–Digital ecologies

–The posthuman and the machine


–Digitization in the academy

Send articles and papers, 15 to 30 pages in length, to before November 10, 2009. A 200-300 word abstract should be included in the body of your email, in addition to a brief bio. Please note your name and title in the subject heading of your email—your name should not appear in your attached submission (Word file .doc, .docx, or .rtf). MLA style is required; submit other citation styles with the understanding that a conversion to MLA will be required for publication.

And finally, good luck to all of you and we hope you’ll stay turned for upcoming book reviews, podcasts and our glorious sixth issue.

Sal Pane
Hot Metal Bridge